2011 has seen a proliferation of releases from 100% Silk, the dance offshoot of Los Angeles experimental institution Not Not Fun. What initially seemed like the varied results of Not Not Fun artists dabbling in dance music has since blossomed into a fully functional crossover zone. Sonically, 100% Silk fills a niche between the art-school new-new age of its parent label and the gnarled Rust Belt electronics of producers like Omar-S and Hieroglyphic Being. The releases by Ital, Sir Stephen, Innergaze, and Magic Touch are rough around the edges and halfway naive, but they nevertheless end up sounding pretty aware of dance music’s roots, like outsider re-envisionings of old school tropes. Then again, 100% Silk is probably going to be as hard to pin down as Not Not Fun — one of its recent releases, Octo Octa’s clean-cut Let Me See You, could potentially have come out on Rush Hour or Numbers. This all amounts to one of the year’s major developments, so we called label owner Amanda Brown to discuss the label’s origins, its aesthetics, and its future. LWE also commissioned Magic Touch to represent the label with a mix, and his selection is an energetic exploration of classic sounds, with some original edits and new material to boot.
Please state your name and what you do at 100% Silk.
Amanda Brown: I’m Amanda Brown; I run it. I mean, you don’t want to know the nitty-gritty. I do everything. I own it. Is that a better word than I run it? I own it. I’m the janitor that cleans up after it.
So how and why did you start the label? What was the impetus?
Well, you know Britt [Brown] and I have been running Not Not Fun since, like, 2003, 2004. He knows better the exact date, but around then. And you know, in all those years it’s kind of like — you can only be so much of a trendsetter, and you can only be so much of a tastemaker because you’re really just listening to the underground, and you’re waiting for demos, and you’re giving as much as you’re getting. And so when the best people in music were making drone, we were getting great drone records and putting out great drone records. And the same with psychedelic rock, and the same with lo-fi garage, and the same with ambient stuff, and the same with lo-fi pop and everything. But you can’t really step out of the mold too far, you know? I used to say, ‘Oh, we’ll turn a corner and one day we’ll start getting hip-hop demos, and we’ll start getting rap demos, and we’ll start getting R&B demos. You know, that day just would never come because you can’t always break into those worlds, and you can’t always move those scenes closer to you. I guess I just kept wanting to do dancier stuff, and I kept wanting to do music with a lot of movement to it, and we just weren’t getting those demos.
Around a year and a half ago I started to notice that a lot of my friends who were making music were actually beginning to make more beat-based music, and it was kind of like — not a hidden thing, but it was a side, side, side project under-the-radar thing. And I kept thinking, ‘I think this is real, and I think that this is happening, but everybody’s a little nervous about it because, obviously, the underground isn’t always very open to change.’ I used to think of it as really open minded, but I think it’s like a lumbering ship and it’s really hard to move people in different directions. But as the months went on, and guided by Daniel Martin-McCormick — who does Ital and Sex Worker and Mi Ami — we were just talking about it, and I was like, ‘I think I’m going to start my own dance label.’ And of course Britt was like, ‘That’s ridiculous. You have so much work to do. You’ve got your own label now; you won’t ever be able to do it.’ And in a way he was right, and it’s really stressful. [laughs] I just started saying to all my friends, ‘OK, if you make dance music, let’s put it out.’ You know, ‘Let’s push it a little bit, and see how much we can get away with.’ Because as you know, or you may not know, the dance world is very strict and very cut off. It’s much like the hip-hop, rap world; there’s a strain of people making that kind of music and they want to be famous. They want to be rich, and they don’t want to go through the underground channels, which makes total sense to me. So I was like, ‘Well, we’ll just sit around, and we’ll wait for everyone to come to us.’ And the first few records I put out were my friends, and then the demos started to come in. And everything changed. And I was lucky.
Yeah, I was going to ask about that: The first few records were from people who had already released or were currently releasing on Not Not Fun or were also releasing on Not Not Fun — like The Deeep or Ital. But have all the recent things been your A&R work? Like Octo Octa, who hasn’t released on Not Not Fun, how have you gone about finding these people — have the more recent releases all been from demos?
The Internet is just this very dorky thing where you can exist on it for four-and-a-half minutes and 9,000 people are going to find you. It’s something I just am always blown away by. I put out a few records, just a few, and I only had a blog up for a few months, and everybody just started coming to me. I was really lucky because I think through Daniel and Damon [Palermo] — who’s also in Mi Ami, and a few other friends — they would suggest to their friends, ‘Oh, send some demos to Amanda; she’s really open minded about dance music.’ And so that’s how I met Innergaze — Jason [Letkiewicz] and Aurora [Halal] are really good friends with Daniel and Damon. A lot of other people are through links, but honestly, I would just start getting demos from people who were amazing. I was like, ‘You don’t even need me. You should go straight to DFA; you should go straight to R&S or Hyperdub or Planet Mu or something. You don’t need me. I’m way, way, way novice at this.’ And everyone was like, ‘Hey, why not? It’s exciting to be part of something new, and it’s exciting to be part of something open minded.’
I’m really obsessed with artists. I like being a fan more than anything. I think I just provide a real, warm, kind of caring little community, and I think that is really nice for dance producers who usually get — I wouldn’t say a “cold” reaction from labels, but just a very straightforward business-like relationship. And I try to be more nurturing. I haven’t been doing it long enough to be able to say I can make everybody happy, but I work really, really, really hard to make sure the artists are happy, more than anything. Because I think if they’re happy, they’ll make the best music, and then the fans will be happy so it’s a direct thing. And Michael [Morrison] from Octo Octa just wrote me out of nowhere, and I was absolutely blown away and completely ecstatic. He sent me one song — or he just sent me a link to his SoundCloud page, and I was like, ‘What in the world?’ It’s like that lucky moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’ All I did was get an email address. I’m so fortunate that people want to release with me.’ In a larger sense, I think, obviously, if I could do this for a really long time, if I could do this for as long as Not Not Fun, I’d like to think that people all over the world, making all different kinds of dance music would write to me. I may not release jacked-up techno, or like happy hardcore, but I’d like to think one day I’d get a demo like that. I’m open to hear everything. So I’m just looking forward to the craziness that will come.
I guess on a similar note, compared to Not Not Fun, you’ve only released 12″s so far and MP3s, but if one of these new artists like Octo Octa — if they wanted to release a full LP, would you put that on Not Not Fun or Silk?
I’m already doing a few EPs and LPs. I have a longer Maria Minerva Silk record coming out, and longer records by people, and they’ll all be on Silk and have their own jackets with their own art, and they won’t be part of the 12″ series. They’ll be longer form.
Is there any, like, deciding factor that puts something on one or the other? Like The Deeep had an album — well, maybe that was pre-Silk. But I mean, the LA Vampires Goes Ital record was on Not Not Fun. Is there any deciding factor that means you put a release out on one or the other?
You know, if singles are really, really, really dancey, and they’re dance music, they’re going to go on Silk. Not Not Fun does not do strict dance music. And we try not to be genre-based, and we try to be just all over the place so we can put out the best music in all genres, but on Silk I can’t do that. If someone sends me a really, really great demo but it’s not dance music, I can’t put it out. If I love it, though, I’ll say we can maybe put that out on Not Not Fun. But I have to be a little stricter with the side label because I’m trying to do something genre specific.
For each release how much selection of tracks do you do? Or curation?
Oh yeah, well, it depends. With a lot of dance artists, what they prefer to do is 12″s on a bunch of different labels. So they don’t necessarily all want to make LP-length records. So sometimes people will just send me two or three tracks, and that’s it. There’s not much of a curatorial position because that’s what they have to give, and that’s what they want to be on my label. With other people, though, sometimes they’ll send me seven, eight songs, and they’ll say, ‘Which ones do you prefer? And which ones do you think have the best movement?’ And that’s what I did with Michael, with Octo Octa, he had a lot of songs, and I was like, ‘I feel like these four go together the best, and –‘ You know, I’m only as much a part of the process as they need me to be. I love to give an opinion, and I think one of the only things I’m good at, maybe, is sort of knowing how my own audience is going to react. You run a label for a long time, and you see in trends, and you see outside of trends, and you see who’s buying what and why, and how they feel about it, and what they feel about the things they love and the things they hate. And so if someone can give me nine or 10 tracks, I can probably tell the tracks that are going to go over the best. When I’m put in that position, I definitely have an opinion, and I do as much as I can to steer people in the right direction. I think as myself, as an artist too, I also need an editor, and I also need someone to come in and say, ‘Amanda, these aren’t your best tracks; these are.’
I think we all need to come outside of our bubble sometimes. I think when artists are open to that, I try to give the best feedback I can and help them craft the best three or four song EP. But other people — you know, I’m about to put out this record by Paul Dickow, who does Strategy — he lives in Portland or something. He’s amazing, and he doesn’t need me to tell him a lot. And I mean that as the highest compliment. Not that when people need my opinion, they’re not already brilliant, but Paul is so smart about his own music, and he was like, ‘These are the tracks I think would work best,’ and he was right about all of them. And he was like, ‘And this is the sequence I have, and –‘ you know? I just sort of sit back, and I go, ‘Alright, man. You know exactly what you’re talking about,’ and in those scenarios we’re both fortunate, and in the other scenario we’re also both fortunate. You can always benefit from a label head’s curatorial skills. I know I have in the past, as LA Vampires, and in Pocahaunted too. So you just give as much as the artist wants you to give.
Who does the design work? And also, the artwork has been in uniform sets of five or six so far. Is that kind of cohesive artwork important to you? It kind of reminds me of Strictly Rhythm or something, where every record looks the same.
I pick the image for everything, and I’m lucky enough that I have design friends who do the layouts and the logos, and just help me make it as beautiful and as interesting as possible. The first one was my friend Jesselisa Moretti; the second one was this amazing designer named Bobby Houlihan, who’s incredible. And the third one is about to come out. I have one more record in the second sleeve, and then the third sleeve will begin, and I designed that one. Just myself. I don’t know, I think for me, collecting dance 12″s… I personally have no affiliation with a plain, white sleeve or a plain, black sleeve. And that’s what you’ll see a lot, you know, when people are DJing, and that’s more of the commodity of dance music. It’s these uniform things — it’s not necessarily about the art on the sleeve; it’s about the music and having the white label and sort of being as easy to make and easy to produce and get around as possible. But I don’t really feel a connection to that, necessarily.
What I really used to respond to when I was younger and first started collecting records was disco sleeves that would be — you know, like the Casablanca sleeve, for example. All of their 12″s would be in that one particular sleeve. But this sleeve had art on it, and it was very label-based, and it didn’t seem as bleak as just a black sleeve or a white sleeve. But it was also, like, ‘Hey, these are candy.’ Like, ‘These are just bite-sized candy. So I’m not going to make a cover for each one.’ And with Not Not Fun, the projects are giant and the artist relationships are sometimes years in development, and with Silk I wanted to be much more — I just wanted to put out more music, and I wanted to be able to say ‘OK, let’s put it out, and let’s not stress about the art right now. Let’s just get the music out, and I’ll make a beautiful sleeve, and we’ll run off 500, and then they’ll sell out, and they’ll be these great little time capsule pieces of candy.’ But you know, as the label goes on and people want to do longer things, we’ll start making sleeves that are particular to the records, but right now I think people sort of like that collectible, collect-them-all feeling. At least I hope so.
Are there any label past or present that you’re particularly inspired by in running 100% Silk?
You know, I have so much respect for all dance labels working now, in particular DFA, R&S, Hyperdub, Future Times, and Planet Mu. I just think doing it right now is difficult, you know? Because it’s not 1988. It’s not 1992. It’s not the most vibrant time in history for dance, you know? It’s hard to keep it up now. A lot of people make glitchy music, a lot of people make weird hybrid dance music — it’s hard to say, ‘I’m going to continue to cultivate and appreciate dance music.’ Because, dance parties and stuff like that are really rare. Live DJs DJing house music is rare, and acid music is rare. Because once rave came it was, like, a lot of things had changed. And so I think anyone who’s still doing that now and has their own aesthetic and their own taste is to be absolutely applauded. I think the people who are doing it at all — that’s just, like, amazing to me.
It’s really hard work to convince people to like dance music because I think a lot of people are really attached to guitars. I think guitars are the albatross around the neck of the underground. It’s hard to think of someone, ‘This music is soulful, and it doesn’t have any guitars on it. It’s soulful, and it doesn’t have any singing on it.’ Or, ‘It’s soulful, and it doesn’t have any live drums on it.’ So in that way, of course I have such an appreciation for that. But when it just comes to the aesthetics and the ideas behind running labels, I grew up on Kill Rock Stars and K Records, early Matador and Merge and Touch and Go and stuff. I just think that any — any one person or any one team that keeps the underground vibrant, and keeps putting time and energy and love into it and keeps saying, ‘Let’s get deeper, let’s get weirder,’ That’s how you create legends. And I’m not looking to be a legend myself, but I’m certainly looking to create legends out of the amazing artists that are on my label. I’d like the majority of them to go down in history. You know, that’s pretty much the cockiest thing a person can say, but it’s true: I’d love them all to be really respected and well known and over time become these little beacons of dance hope. So I’m just going to push on until that happens.
Regarding people DJing house music today or doing it legit today and how rare that is, how much do you think the actual club experience informs the label? I know there have been a couple of 100% Silk nights recently.
I mean, I would love there to be weekly nights, monthly nights, all over the country, the world. I joke all the time [that] I’m going to go to Ibiza and take over. But I think the point is to bring sort of thing back to the forefront. I think a lot of people go to underground shows, and I think a lot of people find their one or two little venues in their city or state, and they hover around them and wait for good bands to come and wait for the best nights. And sometimes not even, they just go to get a drink, and hope they’re going to catch a band tonight. And for me, I would love that to be true of dance music, and I would love more dance clubs to open up that were after hours or late hours stuff with people DJing and playing. I think that that would really change the landscape of dance music. Instead of a giant rave that you have to go to the desert to see — or the more crazy pop-hybrid nights where it’s kind of like jacked-up Katy Perry dance, and it’s not really strict dance, you know?
I wish that the house [scene] was really vibrant in my city, in Los Angeles. I can’t speak for the rest of the country or world, but I know that if that’s the kind of music you DJ or play, it’s really hard in this city to find a forum for it. So I’m working on that, but yeah, I feel like if there was more of that, it would really change how people look at dance music because experiencing it live is the ultimate. It’s much better than having it on record, it’s much better than hearing it on the computer, obviously. It’s the experience, you know? And I think that the experience is the top, and we’re about to go on a 100% Silk tour in November — that I just booked — for a week through the east coast. That’ll be the first taste test of, can we convert people in seven cities into being full-on dance fans, by just playing them the best dance music, and providing them with a full night of dancing and sweating and getting down and being vibrant and alive. Or will everyone just come with their arms folded and enjoy the music, but sort of just stand there because they don’t really dance or know how to dance. So that will be the first test, I guess.
What cities are you playing on that?
We’re playing Brooklyn, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and D.C. Cleveland — that should be crazy.
Yeah, sounds — I can’t imagine, actually.
I know, neither can we, and that’s why it’s going to be bizarre.
So aside from that, what’s coming up for the label?
Really good stuff. I mean, really good records. It’s funny because I think a long time ago when I first started Not Not Fun and people would ask questions like that I would be like, ‘Oh, some records, and we’re working hard.’ Because everything felt like an ego trip. If I would say any record was good, I felt like I was blowing myself up, but these days, you know, whatever. I can just tell you it’s the best music ever, and I’m really excited about it, and I’m really excited for people to hear it. Records by Strategy and Polonaise and Moon Pool & Dead Band and more Maria Minerva and this guy named Bayou, who’s awesome, and just a lot of really incredible thoughtful stuff from all the country, and a few people from outside of the States. And yeah, the Silk tours and hopefully some Silk nights and some LA Vampires stuff. And world domination? Dance domination?
It’ll never be world domination, but if someone wants to dance, I’m hoping to speak with them directly. You know? That’s the goal.
Talking Shopcast 12: Magic Touch (50:01)
01. 4th Measure Men, “Given” (MK Dub) [Area 10]
02. Lian Ross, “Do You Wanna’ Funk” [Chic*]
03. Underground Resistance ft Yolanda, “Living For The Nite” (For The Club) [Underground Resistance*]
04. Raw Elements, “Lost in Time” [Final Cut]
05. Master C&J, “Dub It” [State Street Records*]
06. Da Posse ft Martell, “Searchin’ Hard” (Acid Mix) [Dance Mania*]
07. Congress, “40 Miles” (Instrumental) [Inner Rhythm*]
08. Inner City, “(That Man) He’s All Mine” (Marc Kinchen Vocal Remix) [Virgin*]
09. Soft House Company, “…A Little Piano [Global Village*]
10.1. Soft House Company, “…A Little Piano [Global Village*] /
10.2. Raiders Of The Lost Arp, “Beyond The Dark” (DJ S2/Los Hermanos Mix) [Nature Records*]
10.3. Asso, “Don’t Stop” [Ace Records*]
11.1. Asso, “Don’t Stop” [Ace Records*]
11.2. L.E.B. Harmony, “Feeling Love” [Melba*]
11.3. Jermaine Jackson, “Erucu” [Tamla*]
12. Ron Hardy, “Baby Baby Aw Shucks” [Partehardy Records*]
13.1. Asso, “Don’t Stop” [Ace Records*]
13.2. Jermaine Jackson, “Erucu” [Tamla*]
13.3. Two Men From Jersey, “So Special” [Bass Boy Records*]
14. Bobby Browser, “Smooth Cruise” [100% Silk]
* denotes tracks which are edited or unreleased